Graduate Center Awarded $250K NEH Grant for Digital Humanities Research Institutes

Kalle Westerling 8/14/2019

The Graduate Center was awarded a $250,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to support an expanded version of the Digital Humanities Research Institute, a 10-day residential workshop, first held in June 2018, that brought together humanities faculty, administrators, and curators. In the following year, participants returned to their own campus or organization and led local institutes based on the GC's model. Through this train-the-trainer approach, the first DHRI award reached more than 250 additional participants.

The new project, The Digital Humanities Research Institutes (DHRI): Further Expanding Digital Humanities Communities of Practice, will extend the workshop and training to a new cohort of 15 participants in June 2020. Upon completion, DHRI’s network will include more than 30 community leaders of grassroots digital humanities research institutes at universities, libraries, archives, museums, and scholarly organizations across the United States.

“We're grateful for NEH's continued support and recognition of The Graduate Center’s forward-thinking approach to next-generation scholarship and graduate education,” said Lisa Rhody, deputy director of digital initiatives and director of the project. “This award allows us to scale digital research curricula developed by doctoral student fellows for CUNY’s diverse students, faculty, and staff. The project extends core values of the GC Digital Fellows Program — building communities of digital humanities practice that center on equity and access — to a national network.”

During the June 2020 workshop, participants will receive intensive training on foundational digital research methods, assistance with planning local digital humanities workshops, and mentorship from past participants. Over the following academic year, participants will develop their own local digital humanities research institutes and contribute reflections on their experiences to a Guide to Leading Digital Humanities Research Institutes.

In 2018, The Graduate Center received 134 applications from 23 countries for 15 available seats. “My previous digital humanities advocacy efforts had always been understood as my personal project, or my pet interest,” said Nancy Um, professor of art history at Binghamton University and a participant in DHRI 2018. “With this training under my belt, I can assert more confidence and authority.” Um, in collaboration with DHRI participant Amy Gay, reports that their local institute leveraged partnership from five academic units and admitted 17 participants.

In addition to digital skill training, the DHRI connects participants with mentors and a network of community leaders, supporting participants’ professional growth in their local contexts. DHRI’s goal is to expand access to digital humanities training, effectively lowering the barrier to entry that some scholars experience when using digital tools. The Graduate Center’s DHRI is part of GC Digital Initiatives.

Originally posted on The Graduate Center website.

Lessons Learned

Kalle Westerling 12/6/2018

In my capacity of coordinator for the Digital Humanities Research Institute, I have recently returned to and analyzed some of the feedback that we asked our participants for during the institute. As our participants are now preparing to host their own institutes, these may be helpful tips and guidelines to them. If you are considering leading a DH Institute of your own somewhere, we would love to hear about it, and you may find these ideas helpful as well.

As an overall comment: The notes in this post come from the exit slips that we used as part of the Digital Humanities Research Institute in June 2018. Participants were asked to complete "exit slips" following each day of the Institute. Exit slips included both quantitative and qualitative feedback about participants experience, as well as short assessments to make sure that participants were retaining core concepts introduced each day. Evaluations were overwhelmingly positive, with the majority of participants responding each day that they received help as they needed it, that the pace of the instruction was appropriate, and that participants felt increasingly comfortable with their learning environment. Each evening after participants left, the DHRI faculty reviewed qualitative comments from exit slips about the participant's individual requests, needs, and struggles. We made sure to respond to each the following day through pull-out tutorials and differentiated instruction, by beginning the session with a review, or by demonstrating a particular skill in practice through a live digital project that made use of the technology or skill of the day.

Some general guidelines we learned from the comments from the DHRI participants were:

  • Combining specific topics and general skills is a good approach, which can provide some variety to participants in these workshops. In our case, for instance, we had some panel discussions of larger topics such as ethics and access, while also focusing on learning basic programming in Python.
  • It is good to have many helpers on hand and a system for asking for assistance from others. Those seemed to be appreciated in our workshops.
  • Have snacks and many breaks or keep it open for learners to stretch and get some snacks to clear up their brains! It is intense participating in these workshops; we need to acknowledge that and help participants to the furthest extent possible in their learning processes.
  • Some people move faster than others who may feel overwhelmed. It is good to think in advance and come up with a system to address different skill levels in the room from the outset. In our case, we focused on trying to get some advanced learners to help out as teachers and peer-mentors to other learners. There's nothing better for skill development than teaching that skill to someone else. One participant suggested in one of our feedback forms that building in extra challenges earlier into lessons might be another way going about it.
Another important thing that came out of the exit slips were some things that it might be good to acknowledge in an institute of this kind:
  • Performing basic functions using a skillset after a workshop is a huge step in the right direction.
  • Another important outcome from any skill-building workshop is about embracing learning through trial and error and to be fearless when it comes to lead yourself into failure and figuring out how to get things right again.
  • The intensity of the experience needs to be emphasized: while some workshops can be challenging and frustrating (and make your head spin), the hopeful outcome is that ultimately you will feel that it is rewarding for your work.
Concretely, some things that we either realized we did well or were encouraged working more on:
  • Keep workshop engaging and student-centered as much as possible—generally, that is what generated the best feedback in our comments.
  • Stop and make sure learners are with you along the way.
  • Not jam too much into a workshop (remember to think about how dense the ideas are that you're presenting)
  • Balance fast pacing with slowness.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat! Some of the comments on our workshops seemed to indicate that it would have been good to repeat more assignments in the workshops, since it would have helped with retaining some of the skillsets that we focused on.
  • Have concrete datasets that you want to illustrate with, or have learners themselves identify datasets early on that they may want to work with.
  • Take breaks (let the brain rest since the head-spinning can be intense here)
  • Evaluate each day and make sure to listen to responses from participants. (It is also nice to just hear all the good words about the things you do!)

This is an archived website for the 2018–19 project funded by a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities. Click here to go to the live website.